gulf of mexico
Your daily expedition update from Oceana senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor:
The Oceana crew set off for their first dive operation at the Western Dry Rocks off the coast of Key West yesterday morning.
The diving conditions at this first location were far from ideal. Recent storms stirred up the water with sand and mud, leaving the divers with limited visibility of only three to nine feet. Support diver Soledad Esnaola described it as “like diving in milk.” The site was approximately 50 feet deep and a majority of the coral was covered in sediment. Despite the poor conditions, underwater videographer Enrique Talledo spotted a six-foot green moray eel.
The second dive took place at the Western Sambo Reef, which offered much better visibility of approximately 25 feet. After diving in many different environments all around the world, Oceana’s divers found the reefs to be mostly dead or dying, with little biodiversity, very few fish and no invertebrate life. It was far from what they expected to see on a Caribbean reef. They did catch sight of a 10-inch yellow stingray, a three-foot wide brain coral boulder, grey angel fish, yellowtail snapper, small sea fans and wrasse, small cigar shaped fish.
Imagine a healthy, beautiful ocean. Now remove the sea turtles, one by one.
Not so healthy anymore, is it?
That’s the gist of the report we released today, Why Healthy Oceans Need Sea Turtles: The Importance of Sea Turtles to Marine Ecosystems. The report describes the vital roles sea turtles play in the ecosystem, and how the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is further threatening their ability to fulfill those roles.
As the report outlines, sea turtles provide the following important ecosystem services:
- Maintain healthy seagrass beds through grazing
- Maintain healthy coral reefs by removing sponges when foraging
- Facilitate nutrient cycling by supplying a concentrated source of high-protein nutrients when nesting
- Balance marine food webs by maintaining jellyfish populations
- Provide a food source for fish by carrying around barnacles, algae and other similar organisms
- Increase the rate of nutrient recycling on the ocean floor by breaking up shells while foraging
- Provide habitat for small marine organisms as well as offer an oasis for fish and seabirds in the open ocean
Today Oceana and NRDC, in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory, are launching an oil-detecting underwater robot off the Florida Keys as a first line of defense against underwater oil plumes from the Gulf oil spill.
For 25 to 30 days, the robot, a.k.a.Waldo, will travel undersea in the water column, an area that satellite imagery cannot access, gathering data every few seconds and transmitting the information to researchers via satellite every three hours.
If oil is detected, Mote Marine Laboratory will provide the local government with this information so that emergency resources and response plans can be activated to help protect the Keys’ important ecological resources.
You can check out Waldo’s location and data throughout his expedition at Rutgers University’s web site.
From NBC yesterday:
"My first impression is the vastness of the problem," [Atlanta Falcons fullback Ovie] Mughelli said [during a recent trip to the Gulf with other professional and Olympic athletes]. "It doesn't look small on TV by any means, but it seems like you can contain it ... and that's not the case at all. Especially when you come out here and look at it and see the oil on the Gulf and see the marsh being eroded and see the birds with black underbellies, you realize it's a lot worse than you think it is."
In a civic center in St. Bernard Parish last night, BP and government agencies working on the oil spill set up folding chairs and posterboards describing their work in a kind of high school science fair approach to meeting the public. There was NOAA, setting up vials of simulated dispersed oil like a flight of wine; there was the Coast Guard captain in charge of the recovery, Roger Laferriere, giving a heartfelt speech about his dedication to Louisiana with the earnest aplomb of a student body president.
But while the attendees were dominated by a scrum of reporters and camera crews, there were a few hopeful locals mostly interested in meeting one man: Kurt A. Hansen, a project manager with the Coast Guard standing between a table and a sign plainly marked "Alternative Response Technology."
Hansen's job is to take ideas from the public about the fixing the oil spill. He has the inscrutable expression of a man who’s heard it all.
When I approached his table, Hansen was listening patiently to a man complaining that he’d been ignored by BP for weeks.
Oceana board member and renowned fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly spoke to OnEarth magazine about the gulf oil spill’s effect on marine life and fisheries.
“We cannot really grasp the measure of this accident because we don’t know if we are at the beginning, the middle or near the end of it,” he says.
Watch the video for more from Pauly.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
President Obama announced today that he plans to suspend Arctic offshore drilling, cancel lease sales in the western Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia, suspend activity on 33 exploratory wells and extend the moratorium on deepwater drilling for six months.
Senior pollution campaign director Jackie Savitz had this to say about the announcement:
“President Obama has now seen first hand the impacts that offshore drilling can have on oceans and coastal economies. The actions taken today are just the first steps. We are relieved that Arctic drilling is off the table this summer. We continue to call for an end to all offshore drilling, on every coast,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director.
The latest accident on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig couldn't have come at a more significant time for the efforts to pass comprehensive climate change and energy legislation. With Senate plans to expand and even incentivize offshore drilling, this accident serves as a reminder of how costly offshore drilling truly is.
Despite advances in drilling technology and all of the precautions made, drilling is a high risk business and even the newest technology cannot prevent all spills. Fires, explosions and accidents are more common than they would like you to believe. New technology advances have pushed the envelope for drilling efforts. Expanding drilling activities into these “frontier” areas only increases the risk.
Take away for the moment the immediate danger to personnel on the rigs and look at the potential environmental and economic costs to coastal towns relying on fishing and tourism. Oceana's federal policy director, Beth Lowell discussed the dangers last night on NBC Nightly News:
This week, Oceana's corporate partner Nautica invited us to Key West Race Week to spread the word and gather support for our opposition to Congressional efforts to open up Florida’s coasts to offshore drilling.
In the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009, there’s a proposal that would open up currently protected areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling.
Why is this proposal such a big deal? I’ll give you a few reasons…
1. Currents: the Florida and Loop currents in the Gulf spread vital nutrients to marine life off Florida’s west coast, so if the currents are exposed to oil, it could expose Florida’s beaches and marine habitats to oil contamination.
2. Habitats: Florida’s mangroves and corals provide habitat for over 40 bird species, over 500 fish species, sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, sharks and commercially-important shellfish like spiny lobsters, oysters, clams and shrimp. These habitats are particularly vulnerable to oil.